Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
United Nations Commission on Human Rights
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights, a commission supervised by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, is composed of representatives from 53 member states, and meets each year in regular session in March/April for six weeks in Geneva. In January 2004, Australia was elected as chair. In January 2005, Indonesia took over.
The Commission on Human Rights aims to examine, monitor and publicly report on human rights situations in specific countries or territories (known as country mechanisms or mandates) as well as on major phenomena of human rights violations worldwide (known as thematic mechanisms or mandates). Supporters in most democratic countries consider the work of the UNCHR and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to whom the Commission advises, as helpful for the worldwide human rights situation, yet it has critics, particularly in the United States.
The Commission has been repeatedly criticized for its membership. In particular, several of its member countries have dubious human rights records, including some elected as chairs of that body. In May 2001, the United States which had been a member since the establishment of the body in 1947, was ousted from the commission due to unwillingness to recognize the International Court of Justice, but readmitted in 2003.
On May 4, 2004, United States ambassador Sichan Siv walked out of the commission following the uncontested election of Sudan to the commission, calling it an "absurdity", pointing out Sudan's apparent problems with ethnic cleansing in the Darfur region.
"A government that engages in wholesale abuses of its citizens should not be eligible for a seat at the table, especially a country just criticized by the commission," said Joanna Weschler, U.N. delegate for Human Rights Watch, one of 10 advocacy groups that issued a protest statement. (Reuters)
Activist groups have long expressed a concern for the memberships of China, Cuba, and Pakistan, and the past memberships of Algeria, Syria, Libya, and Vietnam on the commission. These countries have variously been accused of human rights violations, and the concern is that they will work against resolutions on the commission condemning human rights, thus indirectly promoting despotism and domestic repression. Sudanese deputy U.N. ambassador Omar Bashir Manis countered by citing American "atrocities" against Iraqi civilians and the Abu Ghraib scandal in particular. While evidence is clear that some violations occurred, the USA has due process of law to prosecute such violations, which does not exist in many of these countries.
One major consequence of the election of Sudan to the commission is the lack of willingness for some countries to work through the commission. Indeed, on July 30, 2004 it was the United Nations Security Council, not the commission, that passed a resolution threatening Sudan with unspecified sanctions if the situation in the Darfur region did not improve within the next 30 days. The council passed the resolution 13-0, with China and Pakistan abstaining.
EX.Attacks by the Janjaweed Arab Muslim militias of Sudan on the non-Arab African Muslim population of Darfur, a region in western Sudan
Human rights and mental health
In 1977, the commission formed a "Sub-Commission to study, with a view to formulating guidelines, if possible, the question of the protection of those detained on the grounds of mental ill-health against treatment that might adversely affect the human personality and its physical and intellectual integrity". The sub-commission was charged with "determin[ing] whether adequate grounds existed for detaining persons on the grounds of mental ill-health."
The guidelines that resulted have been criticized for failing to protect the rights of involuntary patients.
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